I was shocked to hear the other day that cervical screening or smear tests had hit a 20 year low. LADIES! C’mon now. Why would you put your health at risk?
The charity, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust reports that 1 in 4 women do not attend their smear test. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women under 35 BUT it’s also one of the most curable if you detect it in time.
Why I’ll never miss a test
I moved to the UK in 2004 from South Africa and was quickly drawn in to the world of ‘celebrity’ and enjoyed reading tabloid magazines such as Heat, Now and Closer. We didn’t have anything like that back home so it was a novelty to me (I’ve since moved on to Marie Claire, Glamour and Vogue – FYI). At that time Jade Goody was a big name and was always featured in these magazines as well as on TV. As she was in the public eye, I felt like I knew her so when it was announced in 2008 that she had cervical cancer, I was in shock. It was also around the time that I received a letter asking me to attend a smear test, which of course I attended.
Jade sadly died in 2009, aged just 27.
It came to light that Jade had ignored numerous letters saying that there had been abnormalities in her smear test and to come back for further tests, because she was too scared of what the outcome might be. Jade’s death was a tragedy because it could possibly have been prevented. Her death is also what makes me never miss a test.
Put your fears aside
I know there are probably many reasons why women don’t attend their screening (too busy, for one) but I bet one of the main reasons is that they are scared. Please don’t be scared of a test that only lasts 3 minutes. Surely being diagnosed with cervical cancer is much scarier? And if being afraid of being diagnosed with cervical cancer is what you’re scared of, the early you detect it the more chance you have of curing it.
If you suffer from something like PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and you need more specialist support, please take a look at My Body Back Project who have a cervical screening service specifically for women who have experienced sexual violence or rape.
What happens at a smear test?
I want to (hopefully) put you at ease and explain what happens at a screening so you know what to expect. That way you have nothing to fear. The entire test lasts three minutes. I’ve waited longer for my morning coffee!
A female nurse or doctor will ask you to remove your lower clothing (or pull your dress up) and remove your underwear and then ask you to lie down on the bed and put the sheet given to you over your lower body. Whilst you are doing this, the nurse will either be outside the room or will have pulled over a curtain to give you some privacy.
What happens next is the unpleasant part BUT it honestly is so quick. Throughout the test they will explain what they are doing and try to put you at ease but if you are nervous, be honest with them and they’ll help ease your anxiety. The nurse will ask you to pull your knees up and apart and then insert a speculum to scrape cells from your cervix. This is the horrible bit because (I won’t lie) it does hurt a bit and it’s usually cold BUT it’s so quick and there is no pain afterwards.
The nurse will then put your cells into a little bottle to be sent off to be tested. She’ll then give you some paper towel to wipe yourself and give you some privacy to put your underwear and clothes back on. And that’s it. It’s done for another 3 years.
After the test
Now you just have to wait for your test results to arrive in the post and hope that you’re one of the 90 – 94% of tests that come back to say everything’s ok. If you receive a letter saying that there were abnormalities, please don’t be scared. According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, this rarely means it’s cancer.
Spread the word
Too many women are not attending their screening. This could be your sister, your cousin or your best friend. Please help spread the word of how important it is to book in and attend your smear test when your letter arrives in the post. It’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week on 22 -28 January so it’s the perfect opportunity to get involved and spread awareness. An easy way to do this is by taking part in Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust’s #Smear4Smear campaign. I’ll be taking part! Join me?